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June 18, 2008     596 Words

Building Peace in Northern Ireland

CINCINNATI—Even though Northern Ireland has suffered conflict and violence for decades, an association of Catholic and Protestant clergy called the “Ballynafeigh Clergy Fellowship” has been working to bring healing to a battered Belfast. And their work has paid off: During the restoration ceremony of Good Shepherd Catholic Church in December 2007, attendance of Protestant clergymen proved that peace continues to flourish in the Ballynafeigh District.

The story of the “Ballynafeigh Clergy Fellowship” is featured in St. Anthony Messenger’s July cover article entitled, “Northern Ireland’s Fellowship of Peace,” by Mary Taylor, a resident of Belfast. After June 23, the article will be posted at: AmericanCatholic.org.

It all began in 1973 when the worsening conflict brought together two deeply spiritual men: Msgr. Robert Murphy of Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Holy Rosary Parish and the Rev. Pat Lowry of St. John’s Presbyterian Church. A special bond was formed between these two, who remained close friends throughout “The Troubles”—three decades of violence between Northern Ireland’s Catholics and Protestants.

The two men extended their friendship to neighboring churches and formed a fellowship of clergy who resolved to be friends and to be seen as friends. They met openly when many Catholics and Protestants were afraid to greet one another for fear of being seen as befriending “the enemy.” They also held services together: Christmas carols, a Good Friday service and a week of prayer for Christian Unity. Inspired and encouraged by the clergy, others saw a need to work together.

They had their work cut out for them: Major bombings sent shock waves throughout Northern Ireland, and Ballynafeigh’s clergy helped to heal sectarian division. After the Enniskillen bomb in 1987 which killed 11 people, Catholic and Protestant clergy held a joint Sunday evening service in St. John’s.

After the 1998 bombing in Omagh, all six congregations prayed together in Good Shepherd Church. When violence came to Ballynafeigh itself, the clergy cooperated together in calling for calm. The Fellowship also talked to government, police, health and education services and charities to heal divisions and prevent existing problems from becoming worse.

Teresa Duggan, a Catholic mother and grandmother, welcomed the cross-community church groups, which enabled her children to grow up feeling as if they were part of one community instead of two. “The Ballynafeigh Clergy Fellowship brought the community together,” she says. “They encouraged us all to make an effort to reach across the divide.”

Eager to spread that ecumenical spirit outside of Ireland, the group cooperated in a Habitat for Humanity project last year in Nkwazi, Zambia. A group of 20 people—10 from each church—spent a year meeting and planning the trip which took place in July and August. Together with the Zambians, the Belfast group, aged 17 to 78, made bricks by hand, and built four-room houses.

And even though The Troubles are over, the Ballynafeigh Clergy Fellowship knows that Ireland still has challenges to face, one of which is learning to embrace outsiders, many of whom are migrant workers from other cultures. The Fellowship knows that Northern Ireland must build bridges, not walls. They continue to meet regularly and work for a peaceful community.

Duncan Morrow, director of the Community Relations Council in Northern Ireland, says of the Ballynafeigh Clergy Fellowship: “They show us that our future together is as brothers and sisters, not enemies.”

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Permission is granted to reprint this release.

The second article posted will be “House Churches in the New Testament,”
by Theresa M. Doyle-Nelson.

 


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